Spring 2002
Volume 6 Number 3






 <<Previous  Home  Next>>

Resilient Leaders Needed for Demanding Times

“Moses doesn’t always succeed as a leader, but he’s a great model because he tries different things…,” said Rabbi Elliot Schoenberg during the closing session of a recent two-day continuing education event titled “Resilient Leadership: What Clergy Need to Know to Lead Today.” The seminar was cosponsored by The Rabbinical Assembly and held on the Seminary campus at the Center of Continuing Education.

The leadership of Moses was one aspect of what 19 rabbis and Protestant clergy looked at as they considered how to navigate the rough waters of change that affect so many congregations. According to a 2001 study, between 49 and 70 percent of congregations of all sizes made a major change in worship in the last five years, and 59 percent of those that changed reported that with the major change came major conflict—so managing change is certainly a need.

In addition to the example of Moses’ life, Schoenberg and his coleader, Nancy Foltz, provided many other tools—ranging from a useful understanding of chaos theory to several models of leadership to the exposition of Scripture—for leaders to use in varying situations.

Schoenberg is associate executive director of The Rabbinical Assembly, the international professional association of Conservative rabbis. Foltz is adjunct professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a management consultant to religious organizations and large corporations. Foltz compared the leadership needs of congregations to those of a jazz group, in which improvisation works toward a shared value: making great music.

Elizabeth Brishcar, PTS Class of 1999, came from West Virginia for the seminar—where she is the first woman and first Yankee pastor at Falling Waters Presbyterian Church in Hedgesville. Besides encountering the differences she brings as a pastor who is both a woman and a northerner, her congregation is feeling the tension of changing times. “How do we lead in the Presbyterian Church?” she asks. “The church is facing schism [over the homosexuality issue]. My congregation doesn’t know whether the Presbyterian Church as they know it will exist in six months. Nor do they know which side they’ll choose to be on.”

In addition to the theoretical and practical knowledge they’d been provided, participants were thankful for the fellowship. “It’s nice to know you’re not alone,” said David Cantor, rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine. “There are certain problems and situations common to different congregations.” And, it seems, to different faiths.